SD Supreme Court Sides With Argus Leader In Open Records Dispute

Sep 21, 2017

The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Argus Leader in its open records dispute with the City of Sioux Falls.

The city relied on state law to claim it could keep secret the details of a settlement with a contractor. The case involved sub-par metal siding on the Denny Sanford Premier Center.

The Argus Leader sued to gain access to the settlement. A lower court ruled for the city, and the Argus leader appealed.

At oral arguments in January, Argus attorney Jon Arneson said the city's interpretation of state law defeats the intent of open records laws.

"This simply says 'documents' that anybody can, by means of contract, keep confidential," Arneson told justices. "It doesn't describe what documents; it doesn't have any limitation on the type of documents. It simply says if you want to keep a document -- undescribed, unspecified -- a secret, just make a contract and say it's a secret, and you're okay."

Jon Arneson
Credit Courtesy of Jon Arneson

The Supreme Court ruled 4-1 that the city's contract is an open record and must be released to the Argus Leader.

Justice Steven Zinter dissented. He says the majority opinion modifies the wording and punctuation of the statute in question. And he says changing statutes is the role of the legislature, not the courts.